When I picture a ferry, it’s a sturdy merchant vessel that carries passengers, vehicles, maybe cargo. I imagine two or three decks, comfortable interior seating, room to wander about above deck, toilets, some type of food service. I think of leisurely passage across placid seas.

Certainly, the agencies that sell interisland transit tickets in Puerto Ayora do nothing to dissuade you of this romantic ideal. The agency where we bought our tickets to San Cristóbal had a delightful press image on its wall of the pleasure craft that would glide us, effortlessly, past exotic atolls and across turquoise waters to our destination.

It was set offshore from what looked to be Isla Isabela, the largest and arguably most idyllic of the Galápagos islands. Our ride would be a stunning convertible, mod cons aplenty, the very summit of marine extravagance.

We gladly coughed up our $25 apiece for the privilege.

A Slight Exaggeration in Marketing

What we got instead was a rattletrap with flimsy plastic windows duct-taped into their frames, a Medieval torture device that misidentified itself as bench seating, one putrid hand-pump toilet in the least accessible area of the ship, no food service, no water, and no life vests.

We were just settled when our captain punched it. The boat blasted off the water and headlong into a swell. It was like hitting a traffic bump at full speed with no seatbelts. We did that nervous laughter thing that people do in particularly upsetting air turbulence.

Our projectile walloped another swell and this time we flew a good 20 centimetres off our benches. All of us, each in turn. It was like watching an involuntary wave at a sports stadium. I came down, hard. My neck made a sound I’d never heard before.

Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! This went on indefinitely. The higher the swells, the faster we went, and the more brutally we collided.

Chris, who was seated next to me, looked like she was seeing her own ghost. Filiep, a NATO doctor, appeared to be checking his internal organs for evidence of bleeding. I couldn’t see Chantal, but I could only imagine. A retired military officer, she prefers to swagger off her discomfort. But there was no swaggering here. This was a four-alarm nightmare.

The Asian Girl

At one point – I’d wager it was an hour into this wretched experience – a wispy Asian girl in her early twenties staggered to her feet at the stern of our vessel and attempted an ascent to the toilet.

I thought she’d be thrown clear into the sea. To her credit, she remained upright during some particularly violent pitches. But by the time she reached where I was holding on for dear life, the concussions were simply too much and she collapsed in a heap on my lap. I’m not kidding.

I scooted over to make room. She sort-of-melted into the newly available space, looking for all the world like she had turned inside out and had no idea what to do with her intestines. I asked if she was okay. She ignored me.

And there we suffered: Queasy Chris on the one side of me and our ashen Asian friend on the other. Flying into the air, landing like sacks of wet cement, and back into the air. I was struck by the helplessness and inevitability of my situation. Somebody was going to puke on James. It was only a question of time.

Chris Heaves-ho

That honour, it turned out within minutes, went to Chris.

Very fortunately for me, she felt her ho heave well in advance and scrabbled on her hands and knees to where the massive engines were churning. With what looked to be her last ounce of strength, she threw herself over the gunwale and gave her breakfast to the fish. Three times. The local passengers – who were amused by her antics, right up until she woofed her cookies – immediately found other, more important matters to discuss.

I saw Chris turn, seat herself, and dab vomit from the corners of her mouth. As she did, a massive wave breached the gunwale and hit her full in the face.

She later told us that the cold water, an unexpected blessing, had brought her back to her senses. She was about to throw herself overboard. I’ve no reason to doubt her sincerity. The thought had occurred to me as well.

Two Hours and Twenty Minutes

It was two hours and twenty minutes into our transit, and I was losing whatever is left of my mind. I had never felt so miserable – and I’m from the Eastern Townships. This trip was without end. It truly was.

And then, quite suddenly, it wasn’t. The engines sagged. Someone pointed to land and a cheer went up. The bosun passed out life vests, which he instructed us to wear in case the port authorities checked. It turns out we had them the entire time. Who knew?

The sky was clear and intensely blue and scudded with pearly cloud on the horizon. We burbled past a National Geographic oceanic explorer, alongside an immense battleship-grey Ecuadorian Coast Guard vessel, and anchored in untroubled waters a couple dozen metres off the pier at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.

We were safely arrived. And our real Galápagos adventure had finally begun.

Next Up: Isla San Cristóbal and Kicker Rock.